Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Phillies officially name Moyer 5th starter

The race for the Phillies 5th starter is over and the Old Goat has beaten the upstart kid. Charlie Manuel announced the news today that the biggest battle in Phillies camp is over, confirming that Jamie Moyer will be in the rotation at the start of the season while Kyle Kendrick will be in the bullpen.

It was hardly an unexpected move, considering Moyer's salary and how well he pitched in his last few Spring Training starts. Whether he truly earned it with his spring performance, Moyer certainly deserved the first crack to prove he still has something left in the tank. At 47 years old, Moyer has already beaten Father Time back a few times, who's to say he can't do it again?

Kendrick's versatility might have been his downfall. While Moyer would not have been useful out of the pen given how long it takes him to warm up, Kendrick is still young enough to get his arm going on short notice. While it can be argued that Kendrick deserved to be the 5th starter given his performance this spring, he will certainly be the first arm on hand if an injury happens or if Moyer can't answer the bell at some point.

Whether you agree the Phillies decision or not, you have to take the time to appreciate Jamie Moyer and what he is able to do at nearly 50 years old. With this being his last year under contract, we are likely seeing the last of Moyer in Philadelphia. Of course, you never know, he could keep pitching for several more years. While many in Philly doubt his abilities at this point, never count out a guy who has proven the doubters wrong over and over again.

Jinxed? Roy Halladay on the SI Cover

Hopefully you don't believe in curses and the like because the Phillies just got the ultimate jinx: Roy Halladay is on the cover of their baseball preview:
The image comes via Jimmy Traina on Twitter. While the SI Cover jinx isn't nearly as damaging as the Madden Cover Curse, there have still been a number of instances where being on the cover of the magazine has been immediately followed by a bad loss or an injury. Here's hoping Roy is good enough to overcome the jinx!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Desperation: Flyers interested in Robert Esche

Back in June 2009, the idea of signing Robert Esche seemed ridiculous. Now, with the Flyers so desperate for goaltenders that they needed to call up a college kid just to be the backup goalie, bringing in a veteran like Esche suddenly makes sense.

According to Wayne Fish of PhillyBurbs.com, the Flyers are exploring all options in net, including possibly bringing back Esche, who has played the last two seasons in the KHL. While NHL rules would permit Esche to only play for the rest of the regular season and not the playoffs, he would at the very least be insurance should Brian Boucher go down with an injury. Since Boucher is expected to be the goalie if/when the Flyers make the playoffs, Esche wouldn't be brought in with the expectation that he would be the starter and would likely only play in emergency situations. In fact, even if Boucher gets injured, Esche probably still wouldn't be the starter since the Flyers would need to get Johan Backlund ready to be their goalie in the postseason.

Should they sign him, Esche would simply make things easier for the Flyers. Rather than having to shuttle goalies up and down from the Phantoms when injuries happen, the Flyers could turn to Esche to at least temporarily fill in. Sure, Esche hasn't played in the NHL since 2007 and he is 32 years old but at least he's a warm body who has real NHL experience, something the Flyers really don't have in the system.

Would signing Robert Esche be a desperation move? Yep, but when your top two goalies have been lost to injury and you have a college kid filling in as a temporary backup, you are the very definition of desperate. Such is the sad state of Flyers goaltending when bringing back Robert Esche actually makes sense.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Flyers turn to college player to backup Boucher (but only on weekends)

Ugly. It's a word that can describe both how the Flyers are playing right now as well as their goaltending situation. Everything guest poster Mark Trible said the other day about the Flyers lacking passion and accountability still rings true but what's happening in goal this season, where things have gone from bad to worse, is just ridiculous.

With Ray Emery and Michael Leighton already out for the season, the Flyers have been forced to turn to Brian Boucher as the starting goaltender despite how many bad goals he lets up. On Saturday, the Flyers gave Johan Backlund his first career start in net, and, despite giving up too many juicy rebounds, he had a decent showing against the Penguins. Until he got hurt, of course. Backlund had been dealing with groin issues with the Phantoms and he re-aggravated it in the second period, forcing the Flyers to put Boucher into a game that they promptly lost. While Backlund wasn't going to be the savior in net, we should have expected that the moment he showed any promise he would go down with an injury. That's just how things have gone for the Flyers this season.

Luckily, Backlund only expects to be out a few days. In his place, the Flyers have made an emergency call-up of Carter Hutton from UMass-Lowell. Hutton was just recently signed by the Flyers after he finished his four year college career and will serve as Boucher's backup until Backlund is healthy again. Well, at least on weekends. Apparently, Hutton will be unavailable to play games in the middle of the week because he has a class he must attend at UMass-Lowell.

Yep, so not only are injuries keeping the Flyers thin in goal, classes in college might keep the Flyers from having two healthy netminders. What the Flyers will do if Brian Boucher gets hurt and Hutton isn't around to back him up is a mystery. Perhaps that whole idea of signing Robert Esche that Hockeybuzz.com came up with doesn't seem so ridiculous. And that pretty much sums up the sad state the Flyers goaltending situation is in.

Friday, March 26, 2010

As Donovan turns: McNabb trade rumor roundup

Another day, another new batch of new Donovan McNabb rumors. While it's not my goal to bring every last ridiculous rumor that spreads about where McNabb will end up, here's a roundup of some of the interesting things I've heard today:

-The Associated Press says the Eagles reportedly want at least a top 42 pick for McNabb. That seems pretty arbitrary; they wouldn't take pick 43 or 44? Sal Pal reports that the rest of the league is only willing to give up a 3rd round pick. Looks like we have a difference in how the league values #5.

-Via Adam Schefter, McNabb spoke to Andy Reid and prefers to stay in Philly over getting traded to the Raiders or Bills. McNabb also stated that, if he's traded, he would most like to go to the Vikings. Well, duh, of course he would want to go to a loaded team like Minnesota rather than the crappy Raiders. Unfortunately for Donovan, he has absolutely no say in where he goes. I don't think the loyalty of Reid will keep the Eagles from making the best deal possible regardless of the team McNabb goes to.

-According to multiple sources, the Raiders are supposedly the team that is hottest after McNabb. As I talked about yesterday, the Raiders are willing to include Nnamdi Asomugha in a deal for McNabb and they won't even demand that McNabb sign an extension. While Asomugha is a top cornerback, he only has one more year left on his deal for the outrageous price tag of 16 million dollars. Despite his immense talent, the Eagles would much rather have draft picks than an overpriced veteran.

-Also, there are zero Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick trade rumors. It's curiously quiet on those fronts.

I'm still in the belief that the Eagles will only trade McNabb if given a great deal. They have in no way placed him on the trading block and are simply listening to offers. Whatever they choose to do, the Eagles need to clear up this situation as quickly as possible. The team can't linger deep into the offseason with rumors floating around unless they have decided to trade McNabb to the highest bidder. You can't have rumors still going in June with McNabb left to wonder if he is still the starting QB in Philly. If nothing else but for the sanity of the fans, I hope something happens sooner rather than later.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Latest rumor: McNabb to the Raiders in megadeal

Expect a lot more rumors like this to pop up in the coming days. According to Pro Football Talk, the Raiders and Eagles might possibly be discussing a huge trade that would send Donovan McNabb and Asante Samuel to the Raiders for Nnamdi Asomugha and a second round pick. Yep, that would be three Pro Bowl players changing hands.

PFT makes it pretty clear that this is just a rumor but it seems more like a trade you would make in Madden than a real trade in the NFL. While the Eagles would be getting a very, very good cornerback in Asomugha, it's hard to believe they are going to trade two Pro Bowlers for only one in return. From the Eagles standpoint, it makes some sense, since Asomugha would be an upgrade over Samuel and his non-tackling ways and the Birds would also be getting an early second for McNabb. Unfortunately, there is still one huge problem with the deal. As I said yesterday, McNabb is a free agent after 2010, so the Raiders would have to agree to a contract extension with him to make the deal worth it for them. There is absolutely no chance McNabb will stay in Oakland on a team with zero chance to win a title.

I wouldn't put much merit into this rumor. It's fun to chew on and think about the ramifications but, really, how often do huge trades happen in NFL? And, like I've said before, the Eagles like to work in secrecy so the rumors you hear are either completely made up or something the Eagles have already rejected. Despite that fact, expect this to just be one of many more McNabb rumors to be spread around in the coming month.

Guest Post: a frustrated Flyers fan gets a few things off his chest

Guest Poster Mark Trible has had enough. Here are his thoughts on the frustrating Flyers:

"It's frustrating and it has to change."

Above are the words of Flyers captain Mike Richards, and I can’t say that I don’t agree. I also can’t say that Flyers fans across the globe haven’t repeated the same sentiments frequently in the last 365 days. What we as a fan base are facing is Groundhog Day, only around 300 miles southeast of Punxsutawney. This is a reoccurring theme, going hand in hand with the repetition of quotes from El Capitan. At what point do we say we’ve had enough? Well, I’ve had enough. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t had enough to cut ties with the team (I’m a glutton for punishment), but I’ve had enough to write a blog post! I still hold some belief in this team, and hell, I may even believe they can win a playoff series. However, playoff series’ aren’t going to cut it in Philadelphia unless three or four are won. Without further adieu, here are the things that I am absolutely tired of watching night in, and night out…

Lack of a collective heartbeat:
The Flyers only have the identification of a ‘team’ because they all wear the same color sweaters. While it is true that there are leaders on the team (most notably Kimmo and Prongs), it seems as if the boys in orange are never on the same page. Point the finger at Lavy, Richie, or whoever else you feel is the problem. All I know is that finding the heart and soul of this team is as easy as finding which way John Stevens is looking.

Continuous effort on the offensive end: I don’t buy into the idea that the Flyers don’t have talent on the offensive side of the ice. In fact, I think the team is extremely talented. However, when talent and effort don’t meet somewhere in the middle, there is little success to be had. Richie isn’t the most outstanding offensive forward in the game, but he gives you all he’s got. Gagne, JVR and even CARCILLO exert a ton of energy on their shifts and skate hard, dump hard, chase hard, crash the net hard. As joyful as I would be to express nothing but satisfaction with these three there are problems with each one. Gagne is old, JVR is young, and Carcillo isn’t very talented. With that being the case, players like Hartnell and Briere have no more excuses to use. I’m sick of them. I’m sick of Hartnell falling down every time he attempts to mount a scoring chance, I’m sick of Briere going to the box every game for high-sticking and hooking. Most of all, I’m sick of having those two erratic forwards on the same line. Can anyone explain why Hartnell should be on a better line than JVR? I sure as hell can’t. Although I didn’t mention Powe, Asham, Lappy and Betts (due in large part to their lack of offensive ability), at least they do their jobs and show the same type of continuous effort night in and night out.

Braydon Coburn: Mr. Turnstile himself. With the current goaltending situation (or lack thereof), our defense has to be excellent. Coburn is about as excellent as Ovechkin is clean. Clean looks at the goal because Braydon is searching for his jock at the blue line are unacceptable and continue to occur night in and night out. I’ve got news for fellow Flyers fans, Boucher isn’t stealing the team any games anytime soon. He can be consistent and good enough for the team to win, but the defense has to protect him as much as possible.

Lack of passion: Effort and passion is not the same thing. But one certainly is the antecedent to the other. When I watched the Atlanta game on Sunday and the Ottawa game the other night, I saw a bunch of individuals who looked ready for summer vacation. I didn’t see hunger. I didn’t see the will to be the best. I didn’t see a team that is attempting to rectify the choke of last year’s stretch run. I saw no spark. Going through the motions is understandable in November. But in March? Not so much.

Lack of ACCOUNTABILITY: I know much has been made of this matter in reference to ‘oh captain our captain’, but there is more than enough to go around. After every game, we hear the same questions asked to the players, and the same responses are given. “Well, we need to show more urgency.” Or “We can’t be complacent with where we are, a lot of teams are hungry and clawing for the playoffs.” Insert whatever other clich├ęs you’ve heard over course of the season. Why doesn’t anyone say, “It is MY responsibility to get this thing going.”? After the Ottawa game, Prongs said his piece about how the team needs to win games down the stretch, Richie said “It’s frustrating when guys aren’t playing their hardest”, Carcillo blamed the refs, Boosh blamed the refs, Lavy blamed the refs. GROW UP. Someone raise their hand and take some freaking accountability! The referees aren’t going to right this ship. It’s up to the bodies in the locker room. Take some initiative damn it!

Where do we go from here Flyers fans? I’m not sure, but I know I’m not going anywhere. The team can play like bums again tonight against the Wild (pick a name with an s on the end would ya?), and they’ll still be my bums. Things have been bad lately but it’s not too late to turn it around for a playoff run, and that’s what I’m hoping. Although, unless the previously mentioned problems aren’t fixed, look forward to an early offseason….full of watching Sidney Crosby highlights.

Follow Mark on Twitter (@Mtrible) for more great Flyers and Eagles thoughts.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Donovan McNabb isn't going anywhere....yet

Donovan McNabb appears to be on his way out of Philly. Or not.

Andy Reid set off a firestorm with his comments today that any Eagles quarterback could be had for the right price, a statement that caused Donovan McNabb rumors to fly all afternoon. First, there was the rumored trade the Rams had "on the table", which would have been for their early second round pick and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe. Just when that rumor started to gain some real traction and turn into an "imminent" trade, Rams officials stepped forward and promptly squashed it, putting everything back to square one.

Then, Jay Glazer, one of the most reliable sources around the NFL, shared on Twitter that four teams have shown interest in McNabb, including the Bills and Raiders. If we can presume that the Rams are the third team, that means there is another unnamed team (Seahawks?) in the mix.

Despite the avalanche of rumors and speculation, the Eagles haven't really changed their stance since the beginning of the offseason. The team has stated all along that they would only move a quarterback for the right offer, meaning they would need to be blown away. Perhaps the Eagles have come down a bit from that statement and are now willing to take a little less for McNabb or even Kevin Kolb, but there is nothing in what they are saying that shows they are in any hurry to make a trade or that they are even definitely going to make a move. Sure, they would be almost foolish to keep McNabb, Kolb and Michael Vick on the roster for another year, but they aren't going to make a move just for the hell of it. They still need to get whatever perceived value they think their players are worth.

Keep in mind also that Donovan McNabb only has one more year left on his contract. All of the teams rumored to get him are bad teams that, at best, would only be longshots for a playoff spot with McNabb. Sure, they would sell a few more tickets, but what would be the point in getting McNabb for a year if you aren't a contender? Considering he wants to win a title, there's no way McNabb signs a long-term deal to stay in St. Louis or Oakland, yet those teams would demand that he sign an extension with them before making a deal or they would just be throwing picks away for a few extra bucks at the gate.

So, what happens now? We know that the Eagles would love to move a quarterback and that their preference is getting rid of Michael Vick. Since no one in the league wants Vick, that leaves McNabb and Kolb on the table. Since Kolb is perceived as the quarterback of the future, the Eagles would probably want a pretty hefty package for him, and that leaves McNabb as the most likely QB to get traded. However, it takes two teams to make a trade, and if the Eagles don't get the right offer, McNabb isn't going anywhere.

Which is exactly where we have been since the beginning of the offseason. If the Eagles get the right offer for any of their quarterbacks, they will make the trade. If I were to make a guess, I say that the Eagles are more likely to keep Kolb and McNabb then they are to trade either one. While Vick is the wild card because you never know who will make a desperate offer, I don't think the rest of the league values the Eagles QB's the same way Andy Reid does. All of that means we are probably in for one more year of McNabb under center, which really isn't as bad as Eagles fans make it seem. The guy can still play, folks, whether you're sick of him or not.

Strap yourselves in for a few more months of McNabb rumors, things are really going to heat up as we head into the draft. If you aren't already sick of all the speculation, you will be soon enough. Just like McNabb himself said, let's all hope, for our own sanity, that things get sorted out soon.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mike Bell is officially an Eagle

There's a new backup running back in Philly.

Former Saints running back Mike Bell signed an offer sheet with the Eagles a week ago and New Orleans has declined to match, making Bell a Bird. The contract was for 1 year and 1.7 million and Bell figures to back up LeSean McCoy in the Eagles backfield.

A 4 year vet in the NFL with the Saints and Broncos, Bell brings experience and some nice size (6 foot, 225 pounds) to the Eagles. While he has never actually played a full season in the league, Bell did have a solid year for the Saints last year, rushing for 654 yards and 5 TD's.

While I'm not that excited about the move, especially considering Bell doesn't solve the Eagles short yardage woes, he's still an upgrade over Eldra Buckley. While the Eagles arguably could have drafted someone in the 4th round who was better than Buckley, I like the idea of having a veteran around to supplement Leonard Weaver just in case McCoy breaks down at some point in the year. I call it a nice signing for the Eagles; they got a decent back for a decent price.

Monday, March 22, 2010

2010 Phillies Opening Day bullpen pitchers are set

With the demotion of Mike Zagurski, the Phillies bullpen is set for Opening Day. Well, sort of; all of the pitchers are in place they just haven't all been given their roles as of yet. There's still that little matter of deciding who the 5th starter is and Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero have to be officially added to the disabled list.

Here are the 12 pitchers the Phillies will carry on Opening Day:

Starting Pitchers: Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer/Kyle Kendrick

Bullpen: Ryan Madson, Danys Baez, Chad Durbin, Jose Contreras, Antonio Bastardo, David Herndon, Moyer/Kendrick

To be placed on DL: Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero

Breaking down the bullpen further, these are probably the initial roles:

Long relief:
Contreras
Moyer/Kendrick

Lefty:
Bastardo

6th inning:
Herndon
Contreras?

7th inning:
Durbin

Setup man:
Baez

Closer:
Madson

I wouldn't call that an ideal bullpen but it will get the job done for a few weeks before Lidge and Romero get healthy.

Season over? Flyers lose Carter for 3-4 weeks

First they lost Ray Emery for the season, then Michael Leighton. Add to that the 4 losses in their last 5 games. So, of course this happens.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for the Flyers, they will be without their top goal scorer for the rest of the regular season: Jeff Carter will miss the next 3-4 weeks with a fracture in his left foot, which happened when he blocked a shot against the Thrashers on Sunday. With only 3 weeks left in the season, this means the Flyers could also be without Carter when the playoffs get under way.

So, is that it for the Flyers? Should we stick a fork in them? While Carter leads the Flyers with 33 goals this season, the team does have plenty of other goal scorers, with 8 other players in double-digits. So, while it appears that the Flyers season is circling the drain, if they can get one of Claude Giroux or James van Riemsdyk to step up in the absence of Carter, the Flyers can keep hope alive.

Losing Carter isn't the end of the world for the Flyers. Barring a massive collapse, the Eastern Conference isn't strong enough to keep them out of the playoffs. If they can just keep the ship afloat for the next few weeks, the Flyers will find themselves back in the playoffs, likely against one of the top teams in the East. Sure, they seem destined for a first round failure, but that probably would have happened with or without Jeff Carter. Maybe another first round exit will convince the Flyers they need a real goaltender. Then again, it probably won't.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Phillies send two more down to bring roster to 35

According to Todd Zolecki on Twitter, the Phillies have sent two more players down to the minors: IF Andy Tracy and P Ehren Wasserman. Those moves leave the Phillies with 35 players in camp, meaning they have 10 more moves to make before the beginning of the season. With two of those moves expected to be putting Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero to the disabled list, that means that 8 more players need to be cut. The demotion of Wasserman likely means that David Herndon, a Rule 5 acquisition, will get one of the final spots in the bullpen.

Here is who's left on the Phillies Spring Training roster with locks to make the team listed in bold:

Infielders: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Greg Dobbs, Juan Castro, Ozzie Chavez, Cody Ransom, Wilson Valdez

Outfielders: Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Ben Francisco, Ross Gload, John Mayberry, Dewayne Wise

Catchers: Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider, Paul Hoover, Dane Sardinha

Starting Pitchers: Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick

Bullpen: Ryan Madson, Danys Baez, Chad Durbin, Jose Contreras, Antonio Bastardo, David Herndon (Rule 5), Mike Zagurski

Injured: Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero

Friday, March 19, 2010

LOOGY race is down to two: Escalona sent to the minors

As the season draws near, the Phillies bullpen is starting to take shape. With J.C. Romero likely to start the season on the disabled list, the Phillies will have one, and possibly two, spots open for lefties out of the pen. Entering Friday, three pitchers still vied for the LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY) role: Antonio Bastardo, Sergio Escalona and Mike Zagurski. Well, with the demotion of Escalona to the minors, that race is down to two.

Escalona, who shuttled back and forth from the minors to the Phillies last season, will likely start the year in Double A where he will look to refine his control and get some innings under his belt. At only 25, we will certainly be hearing from him in the future, although he may never be anything more than a serviceable major leaguer.

As for the remaining lefties, Bastardo seems to nearly have a bullpen spot locked up while Zagurski will only make the team if the Phillies decide to start the year with two lefties. With Romero not expected to be out for an extended period of time, Zagurski seems destined for the minors, which is where he probably should be as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

No room for veterans: Eagles cut Curtis, Howard

It looks like the youth movement continues with the Eagles as they have cut two more veterans from the roster: WR Kevin Curtis and DE Darren Howard.

Neither cut was a surprise. With the recent signing of Hank Baskett, it became obvious that the Birds weren't going to keep Curtis and his 4+ million dollar salary. With DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant all ahead of him on the depth chart, it was no longer feasible for Curtis to make that kind of money in his limited role. He leaves the Eagles after three injury-filled years that started with a bang in 2007 (1100 yards) and ended with a whimper as he only suited up for 12 games in the last two years.

The writing was on the wall for Howard, too. He was also due 4+ million next season and was just going to be another member of the defensive line rotation. With the recent acquisition and contract extension of Darryl Tapp, Howard wasn't going to be given the chance to earn what was basically starter money. As an Eagle, Howard never quite lived up to the expectations the team had when they signed him back in 2006. He spent 4 years with the Birds, starting slow in his first two years (6 sacks) but he eventually turned into a solid pass-rushing threat in '08 and '09 (16.5 sacks).

Despite the fact that there is no salary cap next year, the Eagles are continuing to go about business as usual. They are still identifying young players with upside, signing them to long-term deals and dropping all the veterans with hefty price tags. It makes you wonder what they have in mind with Donovan McNabb. Will he be the exception and remain with the team or will they find a way to jettison him much like they did with Brian Westbrook, Reggie Brown, Curtis and Howard?

Leighton's season is basically done

The news on Michael Leighton has come in and it isn't good: he will be out 8-10 weeks with a severe high ankle sprain. That means the only way we'll see Leighton in net for the Flyers again is if they get deep into the playoffs, something that isn't likely to happen with Brian Boucher taking over as the starter.

Check my previous post for my thoughts on Boucher and the new backup goalie(s). It's going to be a struggle for here on out for the Flyers. Someday maybe the team will actually value the goaltender position.

Leighton's injury leaves Flyers dangerously thin

While the prognosis on how long Michael Leighton will be out with a high ankle sprain is not yet known, it's pretty clear that the Flyers will be without their starting goaltender for at least a few weeks. In his absence, Brian Boucher is being asked to step into the starting role.

Despite his mediocre play this season, Boucher was acquired this offseason for just this circumstance. Sure, you don't want to have to rely on him to backstop your team at the most crucial time of the year, but there are worse options out there. Boosh has been known to go on hot streaks in the past, perhaps he can find some of that year 2000 magic again. Fortunately, all Boucher has to do is keep the Flyers in the game, not carry them.

Boucher will be called on to do the most of the heavy lifting in net for the foreseeable future as the Flyers don't have another goalie in the system with any NHL experience. Jeremy Duchesne was called up from Adirondack yesterday and he will, at least temporarily, serve as the backup. Fellow Phantom Johan Backlund was the first choice for the Flyers but he is currently dealing with a groin pull. GM Paul Holmgren has made it clear that once Backlund is healthy, which could be in just a few days, he will swap the two.

Expect Duchesne to only be used in an emergency. He's a former 4th round pick who played in 19 games in the ECHL before joining the Phantoms for 2 games this season. He really doesn't figure into the Flyers future options in net.

As for Backlund, once he's recalled I would expect him to get some playing time. He signed back in March with the Flyers and has put together pretty good numbers in the AHL this year. He could make for a nice backup next year if he has a good showing so expect the Flyers to give Backlund a start or two. Who knows, he could prove to be better than Boucher.

The Flyers system is extremely thin when it comes to goaltenders. Some rumors have already circulated (via Hockeybuzz) that they may look into bringing Robert Esche back for the rest of the regular season. While I seriously doubt that, it does reflect on how poorly Paul Holmgren prepared the Flyers for this situation. Then again, most teams aren't prepared to lose two starting goaltenders in the course of one season.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Eagles release Shawn Andrews

I guess they have finally had enough of his shenanigans: the Eagles have released offensive lineman Shawn Andrews. The former Pro Bowler has had a tumultuous last few seasons, to say the least, as he has battled injuries and depression that have caused him to play in only two games over the last two seasons. Over that time, there has been a lot of speculation as to whether Andrews had really been hurt or that he has simply lost his desire to play football.

If Andrews ever gets his head on straight, he could be a great offensive lineman again. I would bet that another team in the league will give him a shot but they shouldn't expect much from Andrews since he hasn't played a full season since 2007.

So ends another long-running Eagles career. Andrews had a ton of potential heading into the 2006 season and signed a 7 year contract with the Eagles but only managed to reach his potential for the first two seasons of the deal. I'm sure Andy Reid is happy to rid himself of the headache.

Projecting the Phillies 2010 Opening Day Roster, Version 1.0

Only 3 weeks until Opening Day!?! I guess it's time to start taking an even closer look at the upcoming season and what we can expect from the Phillies going forward. While Spring Training has largely been boring for the Phils, there are still a few roster spots that need to be decided, namely who the 5th starter will be and who will be the second lefty out of the pen, or even the first if J.C. Romero isn't ready to go.

Here's my first look at how the Phillies roster will look on Opening Day. Players who are locks to make the roster are listed in bold.

Infielders (6): Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Greg Dobbs, Juan Castro

Outfielders (5): Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Ben Francisco, Ross Gload

Catchers (2): Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider

Starting Rotation (5): Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer
I think Moyer's track record will give him the first shot at the 5th starter role. Kendrick has done enough to at least earn a spot on the roster and will be called upon to start the moment Moyer falters.

Bullpen (7): Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Danys Baez, Chad Durbin, Jose Contreras, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick

Likely to start the season on the DL: J.C. Romero, Brad Lidge
Since Romero has only just now started pitching to hitters, I don't see how he's going to be ready to go in three weeks. His injury opens the door for another lefty to make the team. If Lidge isn't ready to go, Charlie Manuel has already made it clear that Madson will be the closer.

Players on the bubble:

IF: Cody Ransom
The injury to Polanco opened the door a crack for Ransom. With Polanco coming back soon, that door will pretty much slam shut again.

OF: John Mayberry
Sorry, John, there's just no room in the Phillies outfield for you. With Domonic Brown ready to take a spot next year, I'm not sure if Mayberry will ever get a regular role with the big club.

P: Sergio Escalona, Mike Zagurski
I'm purely guessing that Bastardo beats out Escalona and Zagurski to be the lone lefty on Opening Day, I really don't know how that's going to shake out. None of the three have been impressive this spring so I wouldn't be surprised if the Phillies pick up a lefty via trade or waivers. Scott Eyre, anyone?

That's the team as I see it. Did I leave anyone off? Who should or shouldn't make it from this group?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Uh, oh: Flyers lose Leighton to high ankle sprain

Talk about a worst-case scenario. With Ray Emery out for the season, the Flyers took a risk and went with Michael Leighton as their starting goaltender. While Leighton has struggled to find his consistency, he has proven that he deserved to be given a shot to carry the Flyers into the playoffs. Sure, he wasn't going to take over many games for the Flyers but he also wasn't going to completely flop, either.

Of course, that was all barring an injury like the one he suffered on Tuesday night in Nashville. In the first period against the Predators, Leighton was ran into and had to leave the game and was replaced by Brian Boucher. Initial reports say that Leighton has suffered a high ankle sprain, something that should keep him out for a few weeks.

In Leighton's absence, Brian Boucher, who hasn't started a game since December 21st, is your Flyers goaltender. Boucher has been a pretty big disappointment in his return to the Flyers this year, posting a 4-12 record and a 2.86 goals against average. Calling on him to start 8-10 games in net could be nothing short of a disaster for a Flyers team looking to make a move up the Eastern Conference standings.

My initial guess is that Johan Backlund will be called up to be the new backup goaltender at some point, although he is currently injured. Backlund has played pretty well for Adirondack in the AHL this season but he has no NHL experience. Backlund might actually be a better goaltender than Boucher if given the chance.

This is the risk you take when you don't make a move to strengthen one of the weakest positions on your team. While there is no way you can predict injuries, it would still have been nice if GM Paul Holmgren had a better contingency plan in place than Boucher. Let's hope Leighton is a quick healer or the Flyers might find themselves facing the Penguins or Capitals in the first round of a quick playoff series.

Eagles acquire DE Darryl Tapp, sign him to extension

UPDATE: Sources are reporting that the Eagles have agreed to a 3 year contract extension with Tapp.

With the Eagles relative lack of activity in the unrestricted free agency front, you knew some trades would be coming this offseason. Here is your first: according to Jay Glazer, the Birds have acquired DE Darryl Tapp from the Seahawks for DE Chris Clemons and a 4th round pick in the 2010 draft. Tapp recently re-signed as a restricted free agent with the Seahawks.

Tapp is a 4 year veteran who is good against the run and has 18 total sacks in his career. His best year was in 2007 when he picked up 7 sacks but his production has fallen off quite a bit since then (2.5 sacks in 2009). Tapp is actually pretty similar to Clemons in that way; Clemons had one big year in 2007 and has since seen his production and playing time slip.

Add another defensive end to the rotation. While Tapp isn't a big name like Julius Peppers, he is a former second round pick who has the potential to contribute. No, he won't be replacing Juqua Parker at the starting defensive end spot, but he will get after the quarterback for a few snaps a game. While much of the same things can be said about Clemons, Tapp is younger and has more upside.

Eagles sign RB Bell to offer sheet

The Eagles may have their backup running back: visiting free agent RB Mike Bell has signed an offer sheet. According to Adam Schefter, the Eagles have signed the restricted free agent to a 1 year, 1.7 million dollar contract. Because Bell is a restricted free agent, the Saints have 7 days to match the offer. Should the Saints decline to match it, there will be no compensation from the Eagles, meaning no draft picks have to change hands.

1.7 million for a backup RB is a pretty good deal but I wouldn't get too excited just yet. My initial guess is that the Saints will match the offer and leave the Eagles looking for another running back somewhere else. Even though Bell is the third string running back for the Saints, he would still be used enough in their offense to make him worth 1.7 million. Of course, the Saints might plan to draft another running back that they can sign for a cheaper rate and their loss would be the Eagles gain.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Eagles to meet with RB Mike Bell

The Eagles are clearly looking for a veteran backup running back. After meeting with Justin Fargas last week and letting him go without a contract, the Eagles have announced that they will meet with former Saints running back Mike Bell on Tuesday. Bell is a 4 year veteran with a career 4.0 yards per carry average who has also spent time with the Broncos.

Bell is a restricted free agent, meaning the Saints can match any contract offer made by the Eagles. If the Eagles sign him and the Saints refuse to match, the Eagles don't have to give them any compensation.

Bell is similar to Fargas in my book; he's had a few decent seasons but would be nothing more than an adequate backup. Bell has decent hands out of the backfield and almost has the size of a fullback so he should be able to get the tough yards up the middle. While the Eagles could likely find someone in the 4th round of the upcoming draft who is just as good as Bell, for the right price, he would make a nice backup.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Phillies discussing Howard for Pujols swap. Wait, what?

This one comes from out of nowhere: Buster Olney of ESPN is reporting that the Phillies are having internal discussions about swapping first basemen with the Cardinals, trading Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has already stepped up and denied this rumor, but Olney must have a pretty reliable source to float out a crazy rumor like that.

Despite what we all think about Ryan Howard, if the Phillies actually made this deal happen it would be tremendous. Pujols, who will be a free agent after the 2011 season, is the best hitter in the modern era and brings much more to the table than Howard. If the Phillies somehow acquired him and signed him to an extension, he would an anchor in the middle of the Phillies lineup for the next decade. Of course, because he's the best hitter in the game, the Cardinals would be foolish to trade him because they could never get equal value in return. It would take much more than just Ryan Howard in a trade to pry him from the Cardinals, who will be doing everything they can to sign Pujols before he becomes a free agent.

Will this trade ever happen? Nope. Despite Howard's ties to St. Louis and his impending free agency in 2012, this kind of trade only happens in fantasy baseball. While we know Amaro is willing to be aggressive in the trade market, don't hold your breath waiting for this one to happen.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pronger nets goal in final seconds as Flyers knock off Chicago

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
It's only March and it was just one game but the Flyers made quite a statement on Saturday when they took on the Chicago Blackhawks, one of the best teams in the Western Conference. Simply hanging with the Blackhawks for the entire game was impressive enough but the Flyers managed to hang around just long enough to pull off an impressive come-from-behind win.

Trailing 2-1 late in the third period, the Blackhawks had all the momentum until, of all people, Scott Hartnell (who hadn't scored since January 20th) managed to tie the game up. Then, just when the game looked to be headed to overtime, Claude Giroux fed a streaking Chris Pronger who tapped in the game-winner with two seconds left to give the Flyers a 3-2 win.

It all started in net for the Flyers as Michael Leighton played one of his best games of the season, stopping 39 shots, a handful of them of the highlight variety. While Leighton is still struggling with his consistency, games like today show why the Flyers have faith in him. The Blackhawks have a slew of offensive weapons and Leighton managed to stonewall them for most of the afternoon to give the Flyers a chance to pull it out in the end. If Leighton can put together a string of games like today, he will really raise the confidence level of the players and the fans.

With the win, the Flyers inched closer to the 5th seed in the East. With a game in hand, the Flyers now trail the Senators by only 3 points. A few more games like today and the Flyers will not only leapfrog the Senators, they might be looking at overtaking the Devils for the 4th seed.

Phillies make first cuts, pare roster down to 44

There aren't expected to be a lot of surprises in Spring Training this year for the Phillies. Besides the battle for the 5th spot in the rotation and barring a tremendous showing by one of the young bats, the Phillies Opening Day roster is nearly set in stone. Having so little on the line makes for a pretty uneventful and calm spring in the major league camp.

The Phillies did make their first cuts today, reassigning 14 players to the minor league camp. The most notable among them was Scott Mathieson, who has had two Tommy John surgeries and had a decent chance at landing a spot in the bullpen. The Phillies likely feel that Mathieson needs to get some more innings of work in before they can commit a bullpen spot to him. Barring another arm injury, Mathieson should be back up with the big club at some point this season.

The rest of the Phillies cuts are not surprises: pitchers Phillippe Aumont, Yohan Flande, Drew Naylor, J.C. Ramirez, Jesus Sanchez, Joe Savery and Bill White, catchers Tuffy Goeswisch, Kevin Nelson and John Suomi, shortstop Freddy Galvis, outfielders Quintin Berry and Tyson Gillies. You may recognize three of those players from the Cliff Lee deal (Aumont, Ramirez, Gillies) but none of them had even an outside chance at a major league spot.

The Phillies are now left with 44 players at the major league camp, meaning they have 19 more cuts to go.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Eagles bring back WR Hank Baskett

As expected, Hank Baskett has returned to the Eagles, signing a one year deal. Baskett, who had spent 3 full seasons with the Eagles before getting cut and catching on with the Colts last year, returns to the team he made his NFL debut with.

As for why Baskett was signed, it's purely a move for some reliable depth. The Eagles currently have 4 veteran receivers on the roster (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Kevin Curtis) so Baskett is 5th on the depth chart. Even if the Eagles draft another receiver, I would expect Baskett to have an inside track at keeping that 5th spot, or even move up to 4th if Curtis is cut, due to his familiarity with the Eagles system. I would also expect that Baskett would be a solid contributor on special teams despite his blunder in the Super Bowl.

Of course, most of you only care that bringing back Baskett means the return of his wife Kendra to Philadelphia.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Eagles reportedly have interest in DE Ray Edwards

Rumors are swirling late Thursday night that the Eagles have interest in restricted free agent DE Ray Edwards. The former Viking was tendered by Minnesota at the first round level, meaning any team that signs him would have to give up their first round pick. Of course, the Vikings could also match any offer, making it extremely difficult for someone to pry Edwards away.

That the Eagles are interested doesn't come as much of a surprise. Edwards is the exact type of player the team targets: a young (25) up-and-coming defender with plenty of football left in him. While the Eagles do have a reputation for being cost-efficient (cheap), they might feel it's worth it to give him the big money he wants and to give up their first round pick if he can provide a solid pass-rushing presence opposite of Trent Cole. While there is still some belief around the league that Edwards' numbers last year with the Vikings (8.5 sacks) are due to playing with Jared Allen, he would still be better than any defensive lineman the Eagles could draft with their 24th pick in the first round.

Of course, all indications are that the Vikings will bring back Edwards at any cost. What the Eagles could do to pull off a signing would be to include a "poison pill" clause in their contract offer; something that states he would have to be the highest paid defensive lineman on the team. The Vikings of course couldn't pull that off with Jared Allen's huge salary on the roster. Basically, if the Eagles really want Edwards, they could offer him a massive deal and they might just get their man. The Birds would really have to be in love with Edwards to make that kind of commitment, though, so they better be absolutely sure he's worth the steep price.

Eagles to bring in Fargas, Baskett for visits; is Tomlinson next?

It looks like business is starting to pick up for the Eagles. Fresh off the signing of Marlin Jackson yesterday, the Eagles have announced that two more free agents will come to Philly for a visit on Friday: RB Justin Fargas and WR Hank Baskett.

Fargas is a 7 year NFL veteran, having spent all of his years in Oakland. He has put up pretty solid numbers throughout his career, including a 1,000 yard rushing season in 2007. He was non-tendered by the Raiders after they said he failed a physical, so there are certainly come physical issues surrounding him but Fargas would be a solid backup running back if healthy. He might not be a great fit with the Eagles since he doesn't have great hands out of the backfield but if the Birds want a veteran who is more than willing to share the load with LeSean McCoy, Fargas could be their guy. Oh, and Fargas is the son of Huggy Bear from the original Starsky and Hutch, so there's that.

As for Baskett, his visit with the Eagles might simply be to sign a contract. The Eagles know Baskett and he knows the offense so there probably isn't much to discuss between the team and player. Look for a Baskett signing announcement to come tomorrow. With the recent trade of Reggie Brown, Baskett would slot in as the 5th receiver on the depth chart.

If those two names don't excite you, Peter King is reporting on Twitter that former NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson is considering a visit to the Eagles sometime in the near future. Tomlinson recently wrapped up his visit with the Vikings and is looking for other teams to visit and Philly is believed to be on his list. While Jeff McLane of the Inquirer reports that there is no visit set up between the Eagles and L.T., Tomlinson would be a perfect backup running back for the Eagles if he was willing to take a lowball contract and have only a limited number of carries. With better opportunities in the league where L.T. would get more money and playing time, don't count on him signing with the Eagles even if a visit is arranged.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On second thought, Marlin Jackson does sign with the Eagles

The Eagles have finally decided to dip their feet into the free agency waters, signing recent visitor Marlin Jackson to a two year contract with a base salary of 1.5 million for next year. It was odd timing for the Eagles, who allowed Jackson to visit with the media in Philadelphia and then leave town before they announced his signing.

Jackson is a 5 year veteran with the Colts who is coming off two ACL injuries. According to several sources on Twitter, Jackson, who played cornerback for Indy, will play free safety with the Eagles, meaning Macho Harris will have some competition for the starting job next year.

Given his talent but his bad knees, the Eagles made a shrewd move in signing Jackson to a cheap contract. Giving a big, physical defensive back 1.5 million to try to prove himself is really very little risk with a lot of possible reward. Should Jackson beat out Harris and be the starting free safety, he could earn up to 5.5 million dollars in incentives over the course of the contract. Should he fizzle out and prove unable to play with his injuries, the Eagles don't have too much salary to eat.

Could that be the only free agent the Eagles sign? Time will tell if they have anything else up their sleeve, like bringing back Hank Baskett or adding a backup running back.

Marlin Jackson leaves Philly without a contract

Marlin Jackson has left the building and he isn't an Eagle. At least not yet. Despite mutual interest between the Eagles and Jackson, the free agent cornerback left the Birds after two days of visiting without a contract. Apparently the Eagles need to see a little more out of Jackson physically before they decide to offer him a deal.

While there is still a chance the Eagles sign Jackson, who is now off to visit the Jets, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting. As I've stated before, while Jackson doesn't excite me too much, I'm all for signing him for the right deal, meaning on the cheap. Jackson's injury issues are worrying but if he manages to stay healthy, he could be a real bargain.

Sixers to fire Eddie Jordan

Kate Fagan of the Inquirer is reporting some of the best Sixers news I've heard in a while: Eddie Jordan is going to be fired. According to Fagan, Jordan could be fired at any time but will definitely not be the coach of the Sixers after this season.

All I have to say is that it's about time. Many, including me, rolled their eyes when GM Ed Stefanski made the obvious hire of a coach he had previously worked with despite the fact that Jordan has had very little success in the NBA. Now, after leading the Sixers to a 23-40 record, it's clear that Jordan's "vaunted" Princeton offense isn't working and that the Sixers are terrible defensively.

Fagan also reports that the Sixers will be evaluating Ed Stefanski and that he may be on the way out, too. As much as I like Stefanski as a person, he has made a series of questionable moves that no good GM would make. He probably should be fired for the Elton Brand contract alone.

It's time for a whole new regime for the Sixers, hopefully one that can get the team out of the doldrums they are currently stuck in. There is some talent there and the right coach can find a way to get this team at least playing .500 basketball.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

DB Marlin Jackson visiting Eagles, will he sign?

The Eagles finally have their first free agent visitor of the offseason as former Colts defensive back Marlin Jackson is in Philly today and tomorrow. Jackson, who previously visited the Ravens yesterday, is scheduled to undergo some physical tests, talk with team officials and then meet the media at 11 am tomorrow. There is some speculation that the Eagles will announce the signing of Jackson when he talks to the press tomorrow but word has come out from Aaron Wilson, a Ravens beat writer, that Jackson is already scheduled to visit the Jets later this week. If Jackson is still arranging more visits, he might not plan to be signing with any team just yet.

Whether the Eagles should offer a contract to the unrestricted free agent is another issue. While Jackson is a big, physical corner with tremendous talent, he is coming off of two ACL injuries in the last two years. The Eagles didn't seem to make a serious run at DE Aaron Kampman, who has a similar injury history, so why would the Birds want Jackson, who has even worse injury problems? Then there is the question as to where he will play. Can Jackson successfully move to free safety, the biggest secondary need for the Eagles, after playing cornerback with the Colts?

As is the usual rule with free agents, if the team lets them leave town after a visit, it's not likely they will sign with the team. If the Eagles don't announce a signing of Jackson at their press conference tomorrow, don't count on him joining the team. Personally, I don't mind the Eagles taking a chance on Jackson staying healthy for the right price. The way Jackson is touring around to several teams, however, he looks to be fishing for a pretty substantial offer. If he is, don't count on the Eagles to get involved in the bidding; it's not in their nature to overpay.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Reggie Brown era is finally over

Finally! After years of dwindling production but a big salary cap hit, the Eagles have rid themselves of Reggie Brown, trading him to the Bucs for an undisclosed 2011 draft pick. Early speculation is that the pick will be in the 6th round but it might change depending on what kind of production Tampa gets from Brown.

No matter what the compensation, getting Brown off the Eagles was a long time coming. After a great start to his career in 2005, Brown peaked in 2007 when he had 61 catches for 780 yards. Brown then quickly slid down the depth chart due to injuries and ineffectiveness and found himself catching only 9 passes last season in very limited playing time.

The Eagles now have four receivers on the roster: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Kevin Curtis. There is some talk that Curtis may be the next to go but that would leave the Birds awfully thin at wideout. I bet the Eagles wish they could have held on to Brandon Gibson just a little longer, 2010 could have been his season to emerge.

Eagles extend Jason Avant for 5 more years

While the Eagles still haven't signed any new faces this offseason, they have been sure to keep some familiar ones around.

Wide receiver Jason Avant, who is coming off his best year in the NFL (41 catches, 587 yards), has agreed to a 5 year contract extension with the Eagles. Avant, who was a restricted free agent, proved to be a valuable contributor last season, making tough catches in big situations. While he will never be a big play receiver that puts up huge numbers, when you have speed guys like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin on the outside, you have to have a reliable slot guy like Avant going to work across the middle.

Terms of the contract haven't been announced but you can bet that the Eagles got a pretty good deal. Even with the uncapped year coming up, the Eagles are going to remain their usual cost-conscious selves.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Eagles free agency update: Whole lot of nothing going on?

The NFL free agency period is in full swing but if you've been following the Eagles, you wouldn't know it. Besides the contract extension for Leonard Weaver and the release of Will Witherspoon, the Eagles have been strangely quiet over the last few days. After some initial interest in Julius Peppers, the Eagles seem to have taken a step back from the big names in free agency, focusing on depth players. It seems that the Eagles front office is just not interested in the weak unrestricted free agent class and might be looking to change their focus to restricted free agents, the draft and possibly making some trades.

Here are the latest players rumored to be linked to the Eagles:

CB Marlin Jackson The former Colt will be the first player to visit the Eagles. Jackson played cornerback for Indy in 4 games last year and is coming off some serious ACL issues. Given the injury history, the Eagles will need to examine him closely and they may plan to move him to safety since he is probably a step or two slower. Jackson is talented and big but the Eagles should be wary of his injury problems.

WR Hank Baskett The former Eagle and Super Bowl goat for the Colts is reportedly someone the Eagles are interested in. Despite his blunder on the onside kick in the Super Bowl, Baskett is a solid special teams contributor who already knows the Eagles offense. While I'm not particularly excited about the prospect of the Eagles signing Baskett, if it means Reggie Brown is finally let go, I'm all for it.

RB Mike Bell Former Saints running back Mike Bell is also believed to be on the Eagles radar. Bell is a veteran back that would fit in as the veteran backup to LeSean McCoy. He would be a nice compliment to McCoy because he is more of a bruising runner. Bell isn't that much better than someone the Eagles could draft in the 4th round but, for the right price, he would be a quality backup.

DE Jason Babin Actually, I haven't heard the Eagles had any interest in bringing him back, but you have to check out his video resume:

Wow, I don't know how 32 teams aren't knocking down his door.

WR Brandon Marshall Yeah, right. He is available, apparently, but the Eagles won't be getting him. Isn't it nice that the Eagles aren't linked to every possibly wide receiver anymore?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Eagles cut LB Will Witherspoon

The Eagles haven't managed to sign any free agents as of yet but they have made another move today, cutting linebacker Will Witherspoon. Witherspoon was acquired from the Rams back in October for Brandon Gibson and a 5th round draft pick and was an immediate contributor on defense, especially in his first game against the Redskins (1 sack, 1 pick, 1 TD). Witherspoon was due to make 5 million dollars next year.

The move comes as a surprise, especially when you consider how thin the Eagles are at linebacker. Sure, Stewart Bradley will be returning to the middle next year, which will push Akeem Jordan back to weakside linebacker, but it's not like the Eagles are brimming with talent after those two. It's likely a question of money and age; the Eagles probably don't want to pay Witherspoon to be a 29 year old, multi-million dollar backup linebacker. Even in an uncapped year, the Eagles are showing that they won't be throwing money around.

Eagles lock up FB Weaver with record contract

It had been rumored for the last few days but it is finally official: the Eagles have signed fullback Leonard Weaver to a contract extension. Weaver, who was to become a restricted free agent, signed a 3 year, 11 million dollar contract with the Birds, the largest ever for a fullback. The contract includes 6.5 million dollars of guaranteed money for the Pro Bowler.

Retaining Weaver became a high priority this offseason after he proved to be so valuable in 2009. Not only was he a great blocking fullback but Weaver also was a solid ball carrier when he lined up as a running back. With Brian Westbrook gone, I would expect that we see Weaver used even more in the running attack.

Remember when the Eagles used to have terrible fullbacks? It's nice to see them finally value the position and wrap up one of the best in the game.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Phillies get their revenge on the Yankees (sort of)

(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Roy Halladay made all the difference.

The Phillies kicked off their Spring Training schedule this year with the World Champion Yankees (man, that sucks having to write that) and got about the smallest amount of payback you can get when they beat them, 3-2. The most notable thing in the game was the performance of Roy Halladay, who threw 21 strikes in 24 pitches to mow down the Yankees in two perfect innings. Halladay looked great on the mound, showing lots of movement with his pitches as he struck out 3 batters. Sure, this wasn't exactly the top Yankees lineup (no Jeter or A-Rod), but for a first outing of the spring, Halladay looked good.

As for the Phillies offense, none of the regulars did much at the plate. Minor league players Ozzie Chavez, Wilson Valdez and Paul Hoover each had an RBI. Brian Bocock had a couple of hits.

Even though it's only Spring Training, it still feels good whenever you beat the Yankees. Having Roy Halladay look sharp in his first preseason action is a major bonus. Who was that Cliff Lee guy again?

With NFL free agency set to begin, is Aaron Kampman coming to Philly?

With free agency set to begin on Friday, I think it's safe to assume that the Eagles will be pretty active. Rumors out of Philadelphia have linked the Eagles to several defensive ends, running backs and safeties. While a lot of speculation has surrounded the Eagles trading their QB's, the quickest way for the Birds to improve this offseason will be by adding a few veteran free agents.

The first player the Eagles might sign? Defensive end Aaron Kampman. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, league sources believe that the Eagles will sign the former Green Bay Packer. Kampman is widely regarded as the second best defensive end on the market (after Julius Peppers), is a great pass rusher and would be a solid fit for the Eagles defense. There are some concerns about his health, however, given that he missed 7 weeks last season with a torn ACL. He is a great pass rusher in a 4-3 scheme, though, so the Eagles may be willing to look past the injury history for someone with his propensity for getting after the quarterback (40.5 sacks over his last 56 games).

While this rumor appears to be coming from a reasonably reliable source, we of course know not to assume anything in NFL free agency until the player officially signs. While Kampman seems like a logical fit for the Eagles, I'm sure there are a lot of other defensive ends that will get a call from the Birds and a lot of teams that will be interested in Kampman. Time will tell if they get a deal done, but with free agency beginning Friday, we won't have to wait long.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bad timing: Leighton, Boucher play terrible after Flyers fail to acquire goaltender

(AP)
There are some that say that whoever plays goalie for the Flyers is cursed. While I've always laughed that off, Wednesday night's game was another example of that supposed curse.

After coming up short in their (reported) attempts to acquire a goaltender at the trade deadline, you just knew Michael Leighton would come up small when the Flyers took the ice against a weak Panthers team. Leighton, whom the Flyers will now trust to be the starting goalie for the rest of the season, gave up 4 goals and was yanked mid-way through the second period. His replacement, Brian Boucher, didn't play much better, giving up 2 goals on the first 3 shots he faced, and the Flyers got smoked by the Panthers, 7-4.

So are the Flyers screwed in net, are Leighton and Boucher now completely unreliable because of their poor performance against the Panthers? No, it was simply unfortunate timing. I'm sure there will be many fans and sportswriters who will play the "I told you so" card but, really, this was just one bad game for a goalie who has been pretty good for the Flyers over the last month. Let's not rush to judgement on Michael Leighton just yet. Sure, he might be among the worst starting goaltenders in the league, but let's see if he can be reliable enough to help the Flyers make a playoff run before we start pointing fingers.

Having said that, Tomas Vokoun of the Panthers proved he would have look pretty nice in a Flyers uniform. Oh well.

Lack of draft picks, cap space prevent Flyers from making moves at trade deadline

I can't remember the last time the Flyers did nothing at or near the trade deadline. Seemingly every year, the Flyers make some kind of deal, whether it's for an impact player or just for someone who can fill a role. Well, not this year: the Flyers didn't make a single move at the 2010 trade deadline.

Not that they weren't trying to get something done. There were several rumors floating around throughout the day that the Flyers were looking into acquiring, among others, Dan Hamhuis, Dwayne Roloson, Milan Jurcina and Raffi Torres. They failed to get anything done, though, and that can be traced to two reasons: having no draft picks and lacking sufficient cap space.

The trading for Chris Pronger, while a good move, stripped the Flyers of several top draft picks. Teams that are unloading players at the trade deadline love getting 1st or 2nd round draft picks, something the Flyers don't have. As for their lack of cap space, it limited who the Flyers could offer in a deal. Sure, to get a top goalie or defenseman, the Flyers could have given up a prospect like Claude Giroux, but then the player they would have acquired wouldn't have fit under the cap. They would have been forced to move a bigger salary to make it all work and I don't think the Flyers were willing to part with a Jeff Carter.

So, the Flyers roster is locked in for the rest of the season. Sure, they didn't make any moves today, but luckily they didn't have any major holes to fill. Yeah, it would have been nice for the Flyers to pick up a goalie with some more playoff experience, but not at the outrageous prices I'm sure teams were asking for. Making a deal for the sake of making a deal is never a good move, so I'm glad Paul Holmgren didn't get desperate at the trade deadline. He still deserves some blame, however, because it's his fault the team wasn't positioned better to get something done.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ray Emery done for the year, goalie trade coming?

The NHL trade deadline just got a little more interesting for the Flyers, who announced that Ray Emery, who was placed on the long-term injury reserve yesterday, will miss the rest of the season. Emery, who has been in and out of the lineup all year long, will have surgery on his right hip.

What this means for the Flyers at the trade deadline is unclear. Do they have confidence that Michael Leighton can carry the team for the rest of the season or do they need to make a move for a proven starter? With names like Dan Ellis and Dwayne Roloson supposedly available, might the Flyers try to move out one of their proven forwards for a little more insurance in net?

Personally, I wouldn't be confident that the Flyers could make a deep run in the playoffs with Leighton. Sure, he has been good in the short term, but can the goalie, who was waiver wire fodder not too long ago, really carry a team on his back? I have my doubts but I would love to see it happen.

As for Emery, this could very likely end his time with the Flyers. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and I can't see the Flyers sinking big money into a goalie with serious hip issues. He may never be the same goalie again and there is no reason for the Flyers to take a chance on him.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Source: Allen Iverson's season is over

(Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
What was only speculation before appears to be fact: Allen Iverson will not be playing basketball again this season. According to Dei Lynam of CSN Philly, a source has confirmed that Iverson will spend the rest of the year with his ailing daughter rather than return to the Sixers. It's unknown at this time whether the decision was made mutually between Iverson and the Sixers or if the veteran guard is being asked not to come back.

Given the way he was in and out of the lineup for the Sixers over the recent months, the decision for Iverson to pack it in was an easy one. With the Sixers completely out of the playoff picture, the youth movement needs to be in full effect, meaning playing Iverson would only have blocked Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams from the court. While I understand what the Sixers were thinking when they signed Iverson initially ($$$), his usefulness on the court has dissipated faster than the Sixers playoff hopes.

Not only is this the end of the abbreviated second Allen Iverson era in Philly, it could very well be the end of his career. Very few teams are going to beat down the door for an aging guard who will demand substantial playing time. I for one hope that Iverson gets one last shot in the league, if only to end his Hall of Fame career in a much more uplifting way. I also hope that his daughter recovers from her illness and goes on to lead a full life.

Thanks for all the memories, Allen. We will never forget all that you did for Philly basketball in your prime.

Adios, Riley: Flyers waive Cote, position themselves for trade

It's going to be a crazy week in the NHL. With the trade deadline approaching on Wednesday and players rushing back to their teams after the Olympics, the NHL is hitting the ground running as it gears up for the playoffs.

The Flyers are certainly a team interested in making a few tweaks to their roster at the deadline. They probably won't do anything major but they would like to add a solid player or two at forward or on the blueline. In anticipation of a move, the Flyers started clearing some cap space yesterday by waiving Danny Syvret. They took one further step today by waiving forward Riley Cote.

Even though Cote is only making 550,000 this season and next, waiving him makes a ton of sense, both for salary purposes and his on-ice play. When added with Syvret's waived salary, the Flyers now have over 1 million dollars of extra money to use against the cap. Plus, it's not like they will lose anything on the ice since Cote hasn't really done anything but fight in the rare times he has actually suited up this season (last game played: December 21). I doubt that any other team will bother to pick him up unless they are really desperate for a fighter that doesn't win very many fights. Cote will likely be in Adirondack for the remainder of the season.

Rumors of who the Flyers might be pursuing at the deadline are already swirling. I've heard the names Raffi Torres and Dan Hamhuis thrown around but we will just have to wait and see what Paul Holmgren has up his sleeve. Neither would be earth-shattering moves but both would add solid depth. If either were acquired, the Flyers would have to ship out even more salary to make it work. Expect another current Flyer player or two to be traded out should the Flyers bring anyone in.

Flyers at the Olympics: the Wrap-up

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Well, if that wasn't enough to convince the NHL to let its players go back to the Olympics in 2014, then I don't know what would. With the best players playing in huge games in front of millions of fans, it's impossible to call it anything but a success. Time will tell if it leads to higher ratings in the NHL but at the very least the Olympics have to be looked at as something for players and fans to salivate for every 4 years.

As Philadelphia fans, we should be very proud of how the Flyers fared in the Olympics. The Flyers sent 4 representatives to Vancouver and 3 went home with medals, including 2 with gold. Every one of the Flyers at the Olympics was a key contributor for their club, whether it was matching up against the opponents top lines (Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Oskars Bartulis), putting in work on the penalty kill (Mike Richards, Timonen) or just logging a ton of ice time (Timonen, Bartulis). While it kills me that Sidney Crosby of the Penguins will be looked at as the hero of the Olympics, we can be proud that our Flyers had a huge impact in some of the biggest hockey games of the decade.

Here is the statistical breakdown of the four Flyers who played in the 2010 Olympics:
Now let's get back to the regular season games. The Flyers take on the Lightning on Tuesday, and as much fun as the Olympics were, I can't wait to see the orange and black back on the ice once again.